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Excessive Sweating - What Doctors Know

Molly Weber the worried mother of 16-year-old Naomi wrote in recently with the report that her daughter has been diagnosed with plantar hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating on the soles of her feet. As a medical condition hyperhidrosis has of late received considerable attention with a majority of researchers attributing the ailment to heredity. However what bothers Molly is that there is no known history of hyperhidrosis in either her own or her husband Jon’s family.

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July 5, 2012
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- James Chambers

Herein lies the problem with hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating. Despite significant progress regarding the diagnosis and treatment of hyperhidrosis medical practitioners are still unwilling to stick their necks out and pinpoint the exact cause of the disorder. For instance in a hyperhidrosis survey conducted on the American population (the first of its kind) whose report was published in late 2004 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology it was found that hyperhidrosis affects nearly three times as many people as was previously believed.

In the case of America this translates into about 7.8 million people (nearly 3% of the US population). Considering that no global study has been commissioned to determine the worldwide incidence of hyperhidrosis it is difficult to arrive at a similar global figure. However if one were to proportionately apply the abovementioned figure to the rest of the world it would mean that roughly 176 million people suffer from hyperhidrosis globally!

According to doctors it has been possible to demarcate hyperhidrosis into two broad segments: primary (focal) hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating that is not caused by a separate medical condition or by medication and secondary (generalized) hyperhidrosis which is caused by either a medical procedure or medical condition.

However what doctors know about excessive sweating is fashioned largely by how much they are told. You see of the millions of Americans who suffer from hyperhidrosis only a minuscule percentage seeks medical treatment. As Molly Weber wrote: “Our doctor told us that far too often people mistakenly believe that no matter how much they sweat all they have is a sweat problem rather than a full-blown medical disorder.”

As a result millions of genuine cases of hyperhidrosis aren’t even medically recorded.

That brings us to an inevitable question: how do you determine heavy sweating? The most basic answer say doctors is when you feel that your sweating interferes with your social and professional lives. Take the case of Randall Simmons a musician from Greensboro North Carolina who was diagnosed with axillary hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating of the underarms) as a 14-year-old. Today eight years later he has what he describes as an “uneasy relationship” with his disorder. “I know that I will never lead as active a social life as my friends and even my professional career will suffer because of my condition. However I’ll have to live with it because there’s no permanent cure” he says.

bviously a dermatologist is best qualified to deal with hyperhidrosis so you should consult one if you think you have the ailment. Possible treatment options depending on the severity of your case include use of anticholinergic drugs and topical antiperspirants administering of Botox injections (for axillary hyperhidrosis only) iontophoresis (the administering of mild electrical shocks to areas affected by hyperhidrosis) and surgery though most of these options are fraught with possibly damaging side effects.